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Frostbite: First aid/Conditions/Prevention

 Frostbite: First aid

Frostbite: First aid

Frostbite is when skin and underlying tissues freeze after being exposed to very cold temperatures. It can happen to fingers, toes, ears, cheeks, chin, and the tip of your nose.

If you experience signs and symptoms of frostbite, such as patches of red skin that feel hot to the touch and burning pain, the condition will progress to cold, numb skin that feels stiff or looks waxy.

If you suffer from mild frostbite, you can treat it yourself. All frostbite cases that are not severe require medical attention. To take first-aid steps for frostbite, do the following:

  • Check for hypothermia.If you think you may be experiencing hypothermia, contact an emergency medical services provider. Signs of hypothermia can include intense shivering, drowsiness, confusion, fumbling hands and slurred speech.
  • Protect your skin from further damage.Do not thaw the affected areas if there is a chance they will freeze again. If they have already been thawed, wrap them up to keep them from freezing again.

    If you get frostbite, take care of your hands by tucking them into your armpits, covering your face with dry gloves, and avoiding rubbing the affected skin.Do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes.

  • Get out of the cold.If you get wet, remove your wet clothes and wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
  • Gently rewarm frostbitten areas. If you are frostbitten, soak your fingers, toes, or other extremities in warm water — 105 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (about 40 to 43 degrees Celsius). If you don't have a thermometer, test the water by putting an uninjured hand or elbow in it. It should feel very warm, not hot. Soak for 20 to 30 minutes or until the skin feels better. If the skin's color is normal or it feels numb, you can use a warm, wet washcloth to clean it.

    Do not warm frostbitten skin with direct heat, such as using a stove or heating pad. This can cause burns.

  • Drink warm liquids.Drinking hot tea, coffee, or soup can help warm you up on cold days. Don't drink alcohol, which will make you colder.
  • Consider pain medicine.If you're in pain, you might want to take an over-the-counter pain reliever.
  • Know what to expect as skin thaws.When the skin warms up, you will feel tingling and a burning sensation. Take care not to break any blisters that may form on the affected skin. If you experience anything more serious than mild frostbite, seek medical help.
Frostbite: First aid/Conditions/Prevention

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